This southern Ontario nudist resort attracted hundreds in its heyday; now only wildlife and ghosts roam the grounds, as nature reclaims decaying site
It’s a summery treat to warm the heart on a snowy Christmas weekend— a look back at Fonthill, Ontario’s once famous Sun Valley Gardens, with new historical photos contributed by the founder’s son, Michael Ruehle, in restored colour, as well as images taken on the grounds during the summer of 2020, by @rural_explorer, David Torbett. Our original 2019 article follows the slideshow.
As old-timers will remember—but newcomers may be surprised to learn—Pelham was home to one of the first nudist resorts in Canada, Sun Valley Gardens, a 25-acre spread in North Pelham that operated from 1954 to 1982. Karl Ruehle, its founder, made it his mission to promote nudism as a lifestyle. When he opened Sun Valley, there were only 18 members, but that grew to 300 within a few years. According to the book, “Au Naturel: The History of Nudism in Canada,” this rapid growth “stemmed from Ruehle’s active, indeed aggressive publicity campaign. He distributed press releases, bought paid advertising, and appeared on talk shows and TV programs such as the Claim to Fame show on CHCH Hamilton, where he won a wristwatch because no one guessed that there was a nudist camp proprietor in darkest Ontario.”
In 1961, famed journalist June Callwood from CBC-TV’s news program Close-up, interviewed Ruehle on his experiences and principles of living a clothes-free lifestyle, which at that time included a no-alcohol policy on the premises. (Find a link to the interview at the bottom of this page.)
In fact, according to Au Naturel, while Ruehle’s annual open houses generated wide media attention, his customer service skills were sorely lacking.
“Members and visitors alike regarded Ruehle as autocratic and tight-fisted. He objected when people moved camp furniture, even if only to place a chair or picnic table in the shade. He interrupted games and competitions if they lasted longer than his schedule allowed. He closely monitored new couples in their tents. Many saw him as a ‘boot stomping Prussian.’”
As competing clubs were established, by the 1970s Ruehle relaxed some of his rules and allowed more singles in the resort, which included a health club, communal bathing and massage, as well as dances and parties. A kidney-shaped pool, built in 1956, was a longstanding centrepiece.
Even though the resort’s entertainment was turned up a notch, his membership dwindled. By 1974, the 20th anniversary of its founding, only one original member remained. Ruehle shut the resort in 1982.
The acreage has passed through various owners, however, and remains intact at the western end of Roland Road, where it dead-ends past Maple Street. Over 35-plus years, nature has gone a long way to reclaim the site. Derelict structures in various states of decay crumble quietly among lush foliage in the summer, as mosquitoes in their thousands enjoy abandoned, algae-layered water features. Google satellite imagery taken in 2018 suggests that little has changed since 2013, when the colour photos accompanying this article were taken.
Source: The Voice
Original publication 25 December, 2020
Posted on NatCorn 8th January 2021
Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.